Cancer Survivorship: Empower Yourself

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cancerYou’ve fought perhaps the toughest battle of your life — cancer. But transitioning to life after cancer can be challenging for many survivors. We asked our expert to put together some ideas for finding the emotional and physical support many cancer survivors find helpful when beginning this new chapter.

By Cindy Thomas, MA, Cancer Concierge, Renown Institute for Cancer

If you’re a cancer survivor, you’ve probably heard people say, “Now you can get back to your normal life.” But nothing could be further from the truth — as a cancer survivor, you know things will never quite be the same.

You’ve just survived one of the toughest battles of your life. But what many may fail to realize is the challenges associated with cancer don’t go away when the disease goes into remission. You’re faced with new obstacles as you adjust to life post-cancer: anxiety over the fear of recurrence and residual effects of cancer treatment, depression, emotional ups and downs, and relationship and family issues.

You may feel fatigue and spiritual distress while adjusting to physical changes from treatment. Financial, legal and insurance issues; maintaining employment; and access to follow-up care can also cause duress.

Life After Cancer

Transitioning to life after cancer is not always easy, but resources are available to help lessen the impact on your everyday life. And you can make changes to increase your stamina and help avoid the risk of recurrence.

Start by conserving your energy. Complete tasks when you feel most energetic and alter your methods: Sit on a stool while washing dishes, for example. Teach family members how to be more self-sufficient and let go of responsibilities that simply don’t matter. Be realistic about what you can and can’t accomplish. Learn to say no when necessary.

If you’re experiencing memory loss and the inability to concentrate, jot things down. Set reminders on your phone or computer. Don’t stress yourself by multitasking, instead focus on one thing at a time.

Take care of yourself: Avoid tobacco, get sufficient rest, stay active, reduce your alcohol intake and maintain a healthy diet. Get regular check-ups as recommended, and discuss any concerns with your doctor immediately. Ask for help when needed, and accept any help that’s offered.

There may be days when you feel you can’t get out of bed in the morning or can no longer face daily tasks. Seek counseling. You can benefit tremendously from an objective third party. With the ability to speak openly you can develop healthy coping mechanisms to deal with practical problems at home, work and in your relationships. Counseling can also teach you how to manage stress.

Support for Cancer Survivors 

Support groups are especially helpful if you don’t have a solid support system in place. Choose from educational, peer-led or psychosocial groups depending on where you are in the recovery process. Research and consult friends and healthcare professionals to find the group that best fits your needs.

In peer-led groups it’s often easier to relate to other participants knowing they’ve experienced cancer treatment, too. Sharing in a peer group can build confidence and a newfound sense of control. Professional support groups can help you integrate information and apply it to your life and personal situation. Professionals can also keep discussions focused and on track.

If you’re homebound or live in a rural area, the internet can be a great resource. But be prudent in your choice of peer groups. Non-accredited websites should be avoided, as they may disseminate incorrect information. And make sure you select an online support group that offers anonymity.

Whether you’re in a group, working with a counselor or both, put yourself first and pull everything you can from these resources. Get your power back — with your own commitment to recovery and the support, insight and experience from others.

As a survivor you see the world differently, value those things that are most important and have a desire to give back after being on the receiving end of care. Despite the challenges of “going back to normal” after cancer, ultimately beating the disease is empowering and brings to light your best. A new, healthy, rewarding life is waiting for you. So get out there and make it happen.

Learn more about Renown’s resources for cancer patients, survivors and their families online

This story was also published in the Reno Gazette-Journal’s Health Source on May 29, 2016

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